West End Phoenix goes for broader awareness with OOH buy

The local community paper is aiming to build its brand as a trustworthy source in an age of waning trust in Canadian media.


When the West End Phoenix launched three years ago, the local community newspaper had just one goal in mind: produce a quality print product that connects to the people it serves, giving local writers and artists a space to share their voices. The goal now, says founder and editor-in-chief Dave Bidini, is to bring awareness to the growing publication.

It’s done so through a series of out-of-home ads, three billboards in the Toronto neighbourhood it serves. Although the Phoenix has grown consistently since it opened, Bidini says it’s experimenting with mass media in order to reinforce its voice as a solid, reliable news source in a world of misinformation. Overall trust in the Canadian media sits at just 52%, according to the 2019 Digital News Report. And, with a federal election looming, now is the right time, says Bidini.

The foray into paid media was made possible with the help of its loyal audience, reinforcing the trust the independently owned and operated paper has garnered. Two of the billboards are placed at Bathurst and Bloor and one at Spadina and College. The buys will run until Nov. 6.

“It was the idea of a patron of ours,” explains Bidini. That seems to be the story with much of the Phoenix‘s growth. Though subscriber-based (2,000 and counting), the paper also welcomes donations and support in any form it can get. The point, Bidini says, is to encourage people to learn about their candidates locally. “You can’t be reminded enough to be discerning and to be critical in terms of the places that you go to find out what’s going on.”


The small team at the Phoenix is “a little bit stretched,” Bidini admits. Nonetheless, social channels are active and if you’ve walked down any street in the west end you’ve likely taken note of the paper’s bright pink lawn signs among the orange, blue and red signalling the forthcoming election. Drenched in the same pink vibe and classic Phoenix text, the billboards are a “one-stop shop” in terms of advertising. And, unlike social media, “we don’t have to refresh it, or keep it charming and witty,” says Bidini (pictured right).

The lawn signs aren’t officially part of the media campaign but Bidini says the more cynical people get about politics and their candidates, the more interest the team gets for them. Meanwhile, the billboards – designed by art director Robin Colangelo – have triggered a spike in subscribers to the paper Bidini calls, “slow print for fast times.”

“It’s a big city and [the west end] is a big catchment,” he continues, “so there is always someone who doesn’t know about [West End Phoenix] and I think that’s where the billboards are effective.”

The message is altruistic, he says. “Readers make good voters” is about encouraging people to educate themselves in a “crucial time” for the “country’s legacy,” he adds. “People reading in general is great and people reading at election time is even more vital, I think.”

West End Phoenix famously kept advertising out of its print pages, but as the paper has found its stride, advertisers have found the paper. Ads, mainly from local advertisers, started to run in the last issue of the second year and Bidini says a survey found readers didn’t much care if ads ran or not.

“It’s still at the end of the day, kind of an experiment,” Bidini says of the paper. “It’s a success because it’s surviving.”

While the Pheonix is largely a print publication, it also boasts a digital presence.